One of Australia's most durable stars is coming to Canberra next year to star in a Broadway musical comedy.
Actor, TV host and singer Daryl Somers will play the lead role in Dramatic Productions' The Producers. It marks his Canberra musical theatre debut.
The Producers, with book, music and lyrics by comedy legend Mel Brooks, is set in 1959 and tells the story of a down-on-his luck New York theatrical producer, Max Biallystock.
He cooks up a scheme with showbiz-struck accountant Leo Bloom. They will sell much more than 100 per cent of the cost of producing the worst play they can find, one so bad and so offensive that's guaranteed to flop, then abscond with the rest of the money.
Max and Leo choose Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, a celebration of the dictator written by ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind, and set about finding the worst director and actors they can. What could possibly go wrong?
Directing the production will be singer and actress Rachael Beck. It's her first time directing but she has long experience in Australian musical theatre including Cats, Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables.
Producer Richard Block says he chose The Producers because, "I wanted to do something really funny, really entertaining and really well-known.
"As for Daryl - I wanted someone who really relished the role and whom people would really enjoy seeing."
He says he engaged Beck and Somers "to give locals the opportunity to work with professionals" and learn from them. Apart from Somers, all the cast will be from the Canberra region (auditions are yet to be held).
"It will enhance our local scene."
Block first brought Beck on board and says he asked her which actor she would like to bring in - she replied, "Daryl Somers."
Beck had seen Somers in the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson in a production of Guys and Dolls and talked to him afterwards.
"She decided he was someone she would really like to work with," Block says.
Somers - a multiple Logie Award winner who hosted the TV show Hey Hey It's Saturday for many years but is also a stage performer and singer - says he is very excited to be playing the role of Max. He flew to New York in 2004 to see the show twice - the final performance of the then-current cast and then Nathan Lane as Max and Matthew Broderick as Leo on the opening night of their return engagement.
The latter ticket - purchased through a hotel concierge - was very expensive but worth it to see the show with the creators of the lead roles.
"It was magnificent, it was just great."
While Somers was entering the theatre, an old man held a door open for him. Somers thanked him and kept going. Then it clicked.
"Hell, that's Mel Brooks!"
Somers hurried over and thanked him again - for the TV series Get Smart! (which Brooks created with Buck Henry) and for all his comedy movies including the original film of The Producers (1968) and Blazing Saddles (1974)
"He said, 'Oh - thank you very much!"
Somers was running late and his seat was in the front row. The following night he saw Lane being interviewed on TV and talking about how, 20 minutes into the show, he saw someone in the aisle.
"I thought, 'Oh no! That was me! Thank God he didn't know me."
Somers says he loved The Producers' story and score and hoped one day he could perform in it.
While Somers is best known for his TV work - including Family Feud and Dancing With The Stars as well as Hey Hey It's Saturday - he has an extensive musical background.
"My first love is music."
He began playing his father's drums at the age of three, was in a band as a young man and became a trained vocalist who performed on many TV variety shows and in cabarets. His musical theatre credits include Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha, Harry McAfee in Bye Bye Birdie and Max Renfield in Hot Shoe Shuffle
Somers is looking forward to his on-stage Canberra debut although he is familiar with the city from one of his previous roles: three and a half years as deputy chairman of the advisory board of the National Film and Sound Archive.
The Producers will be on at Gunghalin Theatre from October 11 to 26, 2019. More information including audition details will be released in 2019. stagecenta.com.au.